Beware information overload –
Let your brain do its work
In today’s busy world world we’ve all grown accustomed to living a hectic lifestyle, but we should be aware of the dangers of information overload. You might not come across too many people studying transcendental meditation these days, but on the other hand you won’t have to look very far to find lots of people with their attention firmly glued to an electonic hand-held device of one sort or another. Even people in the gym, where they should really be focusing on their workout, are often to be seen gazing spellbound at their mobile phones.
Today’s lifestyles can be damaging to the brain
But, hey, this is the modern world, right? What’s so wrong with keeping in touch through Facebook, or Twitter. Or any of the other social networks that we can’t seem to live without. Makes you wonder how we ever managed without them in the past!
But there is a problem associated with all this, and the problem lies in information overload. The fact is, we can simply get too much information, and all at the same time. We need to take a break. The brain is nothing short of amazing, but it can only do so much. And this isn’t just me saying this, it’s the opinion of Erik Fransén, a researcher who focuses on the short term memory and seeks ways to ways to treat diseased neurons. He maintains that a typical session of social media interaction can result in less information being properly processed and securely filed away in our memory.
Just exactly what is information overload?
The problem starts in the short term memory, a function of the brain that comes into play during communication. “Working memory enables us to filter out information and find what we need in the communication,”he says. “It enables us to work online and store what we find online, but it’s also a limited resource.”
Fransén points out that the working memory is only designed to handle a small number of items at any given time, and the more we attempt to ram into it (no pun intended), the more likely it is to fail. He says that over-using social media can actually be detrimental, since you’re asking the brain to do too much with what is in fact a limited resource.
Facebook and Twitter rule – but should we let them?
Using technology almost continuously, just because we have the capability, isn’t necessarily a good idea, according to Fransén. The brain is designed to work in both a very active state and a more relaxed state, and that relaxed state isn’t just something to take advantage of by cramming more information in there. It’s very likely linked to memory consolidation, and the process of transferring memories into the long-term memory. Both these states are necessary, and we should allow each to proceed at their normal pace. Interfering with the natural flow, just because we’ve found some interesting new toys, could be a mistake.
Having said that, we’ve always managed to cope with dramatic new developments, and enormous stresses of all kinds. I don’t doubt we’ll cope with social networks causing an information overload, just as we coped with the privations of the ice age, of scratching a living as hunter-gatherers, of long periods of famine and pestilence, and many other terrible eventualities. I don’t think we should worry too much about Facebook and Twitter causing our brains to overload and gring to a halt anytime soon. We’re essentially the same creatures that bravely faced down mammoths and Neanderthals, and came out on top. I don’t think we should become unduly concerned with impending doom in the form of social networks. I reckon we’ll survive!
Avoid information overload
Still, on a personal level, it’s as well to remember that the brain does need a break once in a while in order to perform at its best and to take care of its normal housekeeping duties. So it might be an idea to put our computers on standby occasionally and just chill out for a while. Let’s make sure we give our brains a chance to do their job, eh? In fact, while you’re thinking of taking a break, it might not be a bad idea to think about trying some meditation exercises … 🙂
The major benefits of meditation are well known, but the side-effects of meditation, though less well known, are interesting. Meditation can give you a deep sense of inner peace and make the drudgery of the modern world seem much more bearable, but it can improve your memory too. It can also result in deeper, more restful sleep, improved concentration, increased self confidence, and a general reduction in stress. Not bad for a short time spent away from the computer with your eyes closed, relaxing peacefully. Yeah, might be worth looking into transcendental meditation, or any of the many other meditation techniques out there.
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